September 13, 2013

Know Your Opponent: Nevada

2012 Record: 7-6 (4-4 Mountain West Conference)

Starters returning: 11 total (7 offensive, 4 defensive, 0 specialists)

Breaking it down: Nevada became famous for running the Pistol scheme under Chris Ault because it helped even the playing field against superior opponents. New coach Brian Polian said he'll continue to run that offense and it looked that way against UCLA in the Wolfpack's season opener. It helps that Nevada has a mobile quarterback in Cody Fajardo[/db,] who can be a dynamic threat.

Fajardo threw for 2,000 yards and rushed for another 1,000 in 2012. He's on a similar path this season with 403 yards passing and 142 yards rushing through two games.

His production has also caught the eye of Florida State defenders, who say a mobile quarterback will present a challenge.

"As a defense it's more of a discipline type thing," [db]Timmy Jernigan said. They remind me a little bit of Maryland with the option stuff. It's all disciplined. If everybody comes and does their job and doesn't focus on making the plays, we'll be fine."

But, Nevada's defense is porous at best - it gave up nearly 400 rushing yards against UCLA in week one, and Florida State has had an extra week to prepare for the Wolfpack. Plus, there's the homecoming of Jameis Winston, who was as close to perfect as one can get in his road debut. While it's not a FCS team, Florida State should win handily - though maybe not by 33, as Vegas odds suggest.

Through the air
Player to watch:
QB Cody Fajardo
2012 passing
: 246-367-9, 2786 yards, 20 TD, 143.9 Efficiency rating.
Fajardo is the engine that drives Nevada's offense. He's a dynamic player who can hurt teams with his legs and arm. He's also frighteningly efficient - he completed 67 percent of his passes last season, with an offense that required him to make quick and layered reads.

Again, Fajardo's strength goes against FSU's strength: A deep and talented secondary. FSU has also layered the secondary with large, physical defensive backs who can hold up in run support. Jalen Ramsey, Ronald Darby and Lamarcus Joyner can all make a tackle in the open field.

I think you be even more aggressive," Joyner said of how to contain players like Fajardo. "When guys are very mobile they have to compensate more on their running or throwing ability. You're always going to have a weak spot. There's ways of going after a mobile quarterback."

Pounding the ground

Player to watch:

QB Cody Fajardo (Jr.)

2012 Rushing
: 190 rushes, 1121 yards, 12 touchdowns.

He's no Colin Kapernick, but Fajardo is an impressively productive player. He's in a system designed to take advantage of his talents and he's skilled at capitalizing on them.

Mobile quarterbacks have given Florida State - and everyone else - trouble, but an important comparison may be what Johnny Manziel did to Alabama as a mobile QB last year in picking apart a similar defensive scheme to what FSU runs now. Florida State does have superior size across the defensive line and superior skill and speed at linebacker and in the secondary, but a scenario where Fajardo rips apart the FSU defense is the nightmare one, though seemingly unlikely.

FSU hopes that speed will neutralize some of the Pistol's natural advantages - the entire system is designed to generate a half-second of extra time or space for the offense to find an opening. FSU's speed may be superior enough to negate that in recovery.
Getting defensive
Player to watch:

DE Brock Hekking (Jr.)

2012 Stats:
75 tackles, 10 for loss and 8 sacks

Not only is this guy a whirlwind on the defensive line, but he's got the bleached mullet to back it up! It's hard not to love a defensive end that looks like the bad guy from an 80s teen movie, but Hekking is plenty productive as well. He led the team in sacks and tackles for loss last season and is already off to a strong start with eight solo tackles this year.

Plus, Jameis Winston has proved that given time, he will find open receivers. Nevada's defense was a sieve against UCLA, giving up close to 400 yards rushing alone. That's not an encouraging sign going against a Jimbo Fisher offense, which typically ranks among the most efficient in the country.

Hekking and fellow defensive end Lenny Jones aren't behemoths at 255 pounds each. Aaron Donald did have some success as a smaller defensive tackle in the season opener, but Cam Erving and Bobby Hart are both solid blockers. It's likely Ruben Carter will be starting again in place of Tre Jackson, so don't be surprised to see plenty of stunts and twists with the defensive ends crashing inside to try and work against Carter. The picture doesn't look great for Nevada unless Hekking and Co. can pressure Winston into making hurried throws and force a few big turnovers.

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